December 29, 2007

Perfect Suspense

In the end, it turned out much more suspenseful than anyone predicted. At one point, the New England Patriots found themselves down 28-16, then scored 22 unanswered points to seemingly put it away. They then had to weather a late effort by Eli Manning to hold on, 38-35, to have the first perfect regular season of the 16-game schedule, and the first in 35 years overall.

Tom Brady came out roaring in the second half, but the big surprise came from Manning, who had played poorly in the previous four games. Tonight, he looked a lot like his older brother had switched jerseys with him. Until the fourth quarter, Eli played flawlessly. He looked commanding, poised, and prepared. Only an unfortunate interception in the last stanza marred his record, and it provided the Patriots with the drive that won the ballgame.

Once again, the Patriots looked beatable ... for a while. That 22-point run looked mighty impressive, especially given the forgettable first half the Patriots defense played. They got tough when it counted. That makes them look fairly unstoppable, and with a first-round bye to rest everyone, they will be fresh for their next opponent.

The Giants played with a lot of heart tonight, but got coached with little brains. Tom Coughlin watched two key players go out of the game with injuries, especially Sam Madison in a defensive backfield already weakened with injury. If Eli Manning or Plaxico Burress had gone down with a season-ending injury, Giants fans would rightly have asked what the hell Coughlin was thinking in keeping him in this meaningless game. As it is, they will go into the first round coming off a hard-fought loss and shorthanded. Coughlin validated the Patriot win, but that's hardly his first responsibility in coaching the Giants.

Will this go down as the greatest team in modern NFL history? Not unless they win the Super Bowl. It's the greatest regular season ever, but if they can't add a Lombardi Trophy to accompany it, history will rightly question why they failed. Nick Buoniconti and Bob Griese still have bragging rights, at least for five more weeks.


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